Pirates manager Clint Hurdle likes Cubs’ rebuilding plan
BY DAN MCGRATH For Sun-Times Media June 8, 2013 6:50PM
Cubs baserunner Anthony Rizzo can’t prevent Pirates second baseman Neil Walker from completing a double play Saturday. | AP
Updated: July 10, 2013 6:55AM
Clint Hurdle looks into the home dugout at Wrigley Field and sees the Pittsburgh Pirates from two or three years ago.
‘‘The Cubs are doing what they have to do, rebuilding their talent base from within,’’ said Hurdle, the Pirates’ manager. ‘‘[Cubs president] Theo Epstein is a great baseball mind. I know every guy on their field staff, and they’re all good baseball people. They’re headed in the right direction.’’
It was easy for Hurdle to be magnanimous after his Pirates made it five victories in a row and six in eight games against the Cubs this season with a 6-2 dusting Saturday. A.J. Burnett (4-6) was closing in on the Pirates’ second consecutive shutout and 11th of the season when he served up a two-run home run to Alfonso Soriano with one out in the ninth inning, but he improved to 5-0 lifetime at Wrigley with 8⅓ strong innings. Jeff Samardzija (3-7) took the loss.
The Pirates were committed to a scorched-earth rebuild when they hired Hurdle as their manager before the 2011 season. Their ignominious streak of losing seasons reached 20 after a horrific late-season fade in 2012, but they’re 37-25 this season with a lineup featuring only two 30-something regulars and a homegrown core of Andrew McCutchen (27), Neil Walker (27), Pedro Alvarez (26) and Starling Marte (24).
Hurdle said he sees a similar foundation taking shape on the Cubs.
‘‘I get why they’re high on [Starlin] Castro, and [Darwin] Barney is coming along at second base,’’ he said. ‘‘And [Anthony] Rizzo — what a nice player he’s going to be at first base.’’
Castro, Barney and Rizzo were a combined 1-for-9 against Burnett after going 0-for-11 against Francisco Liriano and two relievers in a 2-0 loss Friday.
‘‘It’s tough putting hits together against those guys,’’ Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘Burnett has been a proven pitcher for a long time, and Liriano is one of the best right now. We hit a few balls hard, but other than that, we never got much going.’’
The Pirates ran down every ball that didn’t leave the yard, with Marte and McCutchen robbing the Cubs of three extra-base hits with catches in the alleys. Walker roamed to the shortstop side of second base to throw out pinch hitter Julio Borbon in the sixth, and Alvarez took a double away from Soriano with an acrobatic stab of his smash to third with two on and two outs four batters later.
‘‘Pitching and defense are the staples everyone strives for in this game, and we’ve been getting them,’’ Hurdle said.
Samardzija struck out seven in six innings, but several of the eight hits he surrendered were well-struck, most notably Alvarez’s massive two-run blast onto Sheffield Avenue in the fourth. Russell Martin touched reliever Hector Rondon for another two-run homer in the eighth, the 100th of Martin’s career.
‘‘Jeff had zero command of his fastball, and he couldn’t get his splitter to hit the dirt,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘He got beat on two hanging splitters.’’
‘‘I need my splitter to be down in the zone for it to be an out pitch,’’ he said. ‘‘I got a couple up, and they took advantage.’’
His lack of command also caused him to pitch from behind in the count too often, Samardzija said.
‘‘I’m at my best when I’m in power counts,’’ he said. ‘‘I need to be more aggressive earlier in the count and get some quick outs. When it’s 0-1, 1-2, I have the advantage. When it’s 2-0, 3-1, they have the advantage.
‘‘They have a good lineup, and they took advantage.’’